Sunday, March 18, 2018
Finding Sanctuary in Target
Looking for a quiet place to reflect on a rainy, damp Ash Wednesday afternoon, I skipped the library. Instead, I chose the Starbucks tucked inside the neighborhood Target.
Would I be able to concentrate and even stay warm in the coffee area just inside the frequently opening front door? I ordered my tea and found an empty table. No one else was around and surprisingly, the longer I sat, the warmer I became. Maybe the large cup of tea I clutched sent warm waves through my hands to my body.
I began to reflect on three passages of Scripture that enveloped my heart:
- Philippians 4:12 - "I have learned this secret, so that anywhere, at any time, I am content, whether I am full or hungry whether I have too much or too little."
- Matthew 28:20 - "And I will be with you always, to the end of the age."
- John 12:27 - "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
I was grateful for the ways these new verses came after enduring a period of desolation for the past several months. I gained encouragement from Mother Teresa, who, despite feeling God's absence, continued to complete each day in ministry with the poor and sick in Calcutta.
My Own Desolation
When my time of "loneliness from God" began last December, I was led to a passage in Leviticus 25:2-6. God is giving direction to Moses about the use of the land.
"When you enter the land that the Lord is giving you, you shall honor the Lord by not cultivating the land every seventh year. The seventh year is to be a year of complete rest for the land, a year dedicated to the Lord. Do not plant your fields or prune your vineyards. It is a year of complete rest for the land."
I, like the land, needed rest from a year of teaching and leading groups just about every day at my church. I was spent and like the soil, I needed time off.
However, after a few months, when I felt ready to resume my writing and art, I had no words or images. My companionship from God through writing and art had disappeared and my heart deeply felt the loss.
My spark from God was gone and I wanted it back.
A portion of each day, I asked God, "Why did you take my writing and art away?" Writing and art had always been prayer for me. When I received no answer from God, I felt frustrated, angry and disconnected from the source of everything I need in life.
Then, one day, I was reflecting on my losses and those three new scriptures came. These words from God spoke of content (even when I felt God's distance), of Jesus' constant companionship (even when I felt lonely) and offered encouragement for a troubled heart and soul longing to write and create.
A Spark Returns
I finished my tea, pushed the cart around Target to gather a few items. To kill some time, I perused the book selections. Suddenly, as I roamed up one aisle and down the next, words started to come to my heart, describing an experience a few days earlier walking through an empty field littered with clumps of dirt and dried corn shocks.
Celebrating the return of my spark from God, I paid for my items and hurried home to get my tablet of paper and pen and start writing.
For Lent this year I am reading "Forty Days With Grounded: A Devotional," the back pages of the book "Grounded" by Diana Butler Bass. On day two, I read the following words that offered encouragement and hope as I was seeking to make it through these barren days.
"Every time I have experienced new depth or new wisdom in my spiritual life, the path toward the new awareness begins with a sense of loss of God's presence. God seems absent, unavailable in the usual places, elusive. I am lost. I have learned to trust the question, 'Where is God?' as a marker along the way. No fear. Only a sign to pay attention to the ways in which the spirit is speaking."
The author offered me a new perspective about my "wasteland," a term through which I was passing and finally, slowly exiting.
God Speaks at Target
I wasn't expecting anything unusual to happen that Ash Wednesday when I entered Target, but I left feeling my spark with God was beginning to return. As words tumbled out of a weary and confused soul, I knew that God can enter our hearts anywhere - even in Target.
Questions for Reflection
1. Have you experienced God's absence? What words would you used to describe this time?
2. How are you encouraged when God seems distant?
3. What practices help you stay focused on God during days or weeks of feeling lost?
Prayer: God, sometime we feel like you are sitting right next to us, while other days we feel that you are so far away. During these moments of drought help us stay steady and firm in you because we have the assurance you are with us always. Amen.